#AllSheepMatter

Jesus said unto them:

“Take care that you do not despise one of these [oppressed] ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.  What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.

And the religious and political leaders answered:

But Jesus, All Sheep Matter!

What about the wolves, Jesus?

ALL Animals Matter, Jesus!

(adapted from Matthew 18, NSRV)

The Call Is Coming from Within the House!: On Disruptions and White Progressive Egos

I’ll be addressing four general problems within the Mainstream (and particularly clickbait-y electoral-focused) Progressive Movement (aka White Progressivism), largely based on some fractures exposed at a Social Security rally last weekend where Bernie Sanders was interrupted by Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters. With a few exceptions, these comments are not directed at specific people. We all have areas we can’t quite navigate around without much assistance. But right now it seems white progressives are not willing or able to be assisted even as their stated goal is equality and justice – it seems they are under the impression that because they agree with and vote alongside progressive issues that they have arrived and are doing all they can for People of Color. Yet, the causes of equality and justice & black and brown lives are more important than any one single person’s feelings and certainly more important than White Fragility or Male Ego, both of which have been informing the Mainstream Progressive Movement (MPM/WProg) as the fallout from the Sanders confrontation displayed.

  • On Controlling the Narrative in White Progressivism

In spaces that are dominated by White men, you can be guaranteed that there is an unhealthy dose of masculinity and whiteness. In these spaces, people of color, LGBTQIA people and women (and certainly those who inhabit the intersections) may not feel welcome to question the prevailing White male wisdom. Whiteness and Hetero-CisPatriarchy create triple-binds:

  1. They create atmospheres where those privileged by them believe that they are natural born leaders and filled with wisdom and logic;
  2. The privileged are so ingrained to believe that their reality is default that they cannot imagine those not them face an alternate existence and way of thinking;
  3. Those outside of these modes of privilege are not allowed to question their reality unless they have won tacit approval from white, cis males

Under this triple-bind, it becomes apparent that to question the ways in which White Supremacy works is to threaten white people who fall under the scope of said criticism. To criticize the racism of the Tea Party is offensive to those affiliated with the GOP. To criticize anti-blackness or silence of progressives is to threaten the kindheartedness of white liberals and leftists.

A repeated mantra lectured at black people is Senator Bernie Sanders has been working for black rights since before most Black Lives Matter activists were even born – as if this makes him immune to critique, as if he actually does more for black people than black people do themselves. A lot of white racists claim some aspect of Martin Luther King’s legacy. Charlton Heston marched with King as well but Malcolm didn’t. To be honest, most of Sanders’ presidential run up to this point has been colorblind and most of his anti-racist actions took place, well, before most Black Lives Matter activists were born. But Janet asks, “What have you done for me lately?

  • On Violence Against Women of Color in Progressivism

“The statement Black Lives Matter is a racist one in itself.” – comment on an anti-BLM progressive thread.

While statements such as this are not violent in and of themselves, they point to a general attitude among White people that does not take seriously the violence directed at black people from white-run political, judicial, and economic systems. In fact, key points that the Black Lives Matter protesters addressed in Seattle had to do with white liberals ignoring or even perpetuating acts of violence against people of color in Seattle (the occupation of Seattle on stolen Native lands, the building of new prisons in the county, Mike Brown’s murder-versary). For addressing these issues of violence against people of color in front of would-be progressives, the Black Lives Matter protesters were themselves met with violence from many of these same White Progressives (grabbing, throwing objects at). When the protesters shone light on the White racism coming from the audience, then the attacks from White liberals became much more vicious. Nearly every white progressive I spoke to or heard from in the last week took the statement from BLM about “White Supremacists” personally at least initially even though it was not directed at them personally nor even generally.

No Moment of Silence for Mike Brown in Seattle

No Moment of Silence for Mike Brown in Seattle

For many black women in the world and especially in the United States, it is hard to exist and resist the ways your existence is reduced. For when you do resist, you are policed. Often even met with police violence or threats of police violence, as the black women BLM protesters found when audience members yelled for the cops to taze them.

The other day, the progressive stalwart Salon published an article titled, “Feminists, We Have to Stand with Megyn Kelly – Even if We Disagree with Everything She Stands for.” A title like this makes light of what Kelly and white conservative women with platforms such as she actually does, melting her ultra-racist statements with a hefty platform on an incredibly influential station down to mere disagreements of opinion. Kelly’s racism, homophobia, transphobia, and classism actually harms marginalized and oppressed people – particularly women of color and especially black women.

Additionally, it leaves me wondering where White Progressivism was when Suey Park was receiving death threats for calling out the anti-Asian racism of Stephen Colbert, one of our heroes? Busy shredding her, ordering her to apologize to a megastar for daring to suggest (as a joke) that his show should be canceled. Something that was not going to happen ever became a such a threat to White Progressivism that progressives forced other Asian-American activists to throw her under the bus. Criticism of WProg from the marginalized left is such a threat to White Progressivism that people who claim to fight for equality for all have no problem using sexist, racist, condescending, and threatening remarks against women of color – to such a point where it endangers their lives.

Even more recently, Jennicet Gutierrez and Marissa Janae Johnson have experienced this violence from the very same White Progressives who claim to be helping them. At the Bernie Sanders rally, Johnson and her Black Lives Matter co-horts were met not just with heckling and boos, but with hands, with projectile, weaponized fruit, and with calls for the police to detain, arrest and taze the protesters. White Progressives were calling for state-sanctioned violence against the very activists who protest state-sanctioned violence while they cry that they already affirm the cause of those same activists.

It begs the question: does the MPM actually respects those it claims to champion because it sure hasn’t listened to them nor does it know what they demand in their own liberation? How many white progressives were calling for the arrest and deportation of Gutierrez for her interruptive statements on the health and well-being of (and violence against) detained, undocumented transpeople?

A fatal error of mainstream Progressivism is a lack of any sort of internal dialog and accepted critique. White progressives cannot believe that anyone from the Left would point out hidden (to them) racism. They argue that conservatives are the “true racists” and that any Liberal/Leftist is truly on “your side”. “We’re on your side” is a lie if the people saying that are ignoring you until you interrupt them and then want you jailed and hurt for interrupting them.

“Bernie marched with Dr. King before you were born!” is a common retort to the risk-taking action that Marissa Janae Johnson performed. If so, he should know that disruption is necessary and no politician is above criticism.

“You’re turning off potential allies!” Hey, we all have different points where we enter into solidarity, but if being criticized lightly (and not personally) hurts too much, maybe you’re not invested in black life to begin with. Black Lives Matter activists are turned on and called opportunists* for exposing lingering racism among liberals whose reception of BLM has been milquetoast to say the least.

But these same WProgs who claim that we should support racist white women for (rightly) calling out conservative misogyny will have no problem performing misogynoir (misogyny directed at Black women), threatening women of color who question the lingering White Supremacy within the Progressive movement.

Is the Mainstream Progressive Movement tuned toward liberating movements against violence directed at women of color, or is it another avenue of this violence?

  • On Respectability Politics in Progressivism

Actions that disrupt are considered rude. Disruptive actions, however, are supposed to upset us and make us consider why we are upset. It’s a pain rising in the nerve center of the privileged and the oppressors.

White Progressives love to claim the victory, words, and work of the Civil Rights Movement. Or at least Respectable Martin Luther King, Jr. “What made MLK so great,” they say, “is that he was a responsible person who…” It’s funny because these dudes never read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail“. But moreso, they imagine a movement that never had need to disrupt people, businesses, and order; that never broke the law. That the whole movement was grounded in civil disobedience. And that disobedience was unruly, hurt businesses, was unlawful. Because the law was recognized by the CRM participants as being inhumane and immoral. As being specifically violent towards the lives of black people.

The law is recognized by Black Lives Matter participants and accomplices as being inhumane and immoral. In fact, it is the law and the practice of the law that is being targeted by the BLM movement. Legality and the exercise of it was used to keep black people from political, economic, educational, healthcare and housing power – elements that led to black death in absurd measures; under this rubric, not much has changed, even as the degree of violence has been reduced.

Respectability Politics is a tactic of White Supremacy, determining that people of color and women will never truly be able to confront White Supremacy until they have every last duck in row. If they disrupt the status quo, they need to go back in line. That violence committed to immigrant transwomen of color by cis men is not so bad when you consider that the TWOC acted outside of modicum (this according to a pro-gay magazine). This civility is the silence in which people of color are choking.

It was this civility and respectability that Marissa Jenae Johnson sought to confront with the power of the cross behind her. I Corinthians 1:18-25 says that the cross – a brutal state-sanctioned means of mass execution that James Cone likened to lynching of black folks and that we can compare to police and carceral violence against black and brown people in the United States – is foolishness to the powers that be in the world, to the established, to the empire, to the worldly. The cross is not respectable – it is solidarity with the oppressed, the suppressed, the marginalized, the lynched. To take our crosses upon us is not a light duty. This is what King recognized as he faced down the KKK, presidents, and the Chicago segregationalists; what Bree Newsome drew on and recited from while taking down the Confederate Flag in South Carolina; how Jeremiah Wright was speaking from when he condemned the United States of America for its empire-building.

Ms Johnson put it this way:

I am only as respectable as the cross.
I am only as apologetic as the cross.
I am only as concerned with worldy powers as the cross.
I am only as concerned about upward mobility as the cross.
I am only as neutral, as polite, and as comforting as the cross.
I am only as rational as the cross.
This is my offering. The Spirit convicts, directs, and affirms me.
But this shit is scandalous. That is the call of discipleship.
I live like the resurrection is coming and Christ is sovereign. It is utter foolishness. It is life.
I do not worship Caesar. I cannot partake in Babylon. I cannot serve two masters.
Believe, I have made my choice.
‪#‎narrowistheroad
‪#‎blacklivesmatter

Fuck your respectability. It is a matter of silencing. And silencing is death.

  • On the Need to Dismantle Outrage Politics in White Progressivism

The White Progressive Internet* accepts and even tolerates this overt racism and misogyny because veiled racism and misogyny is an integral component of the clickbait and outrage politics they need to fuel the consumer capitalism of advertising-run blogging. Consider how clickbait titles work, and how easier it is to engage an audience that already despises Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and especially Ann Coulter by using incredibly unflattering pictures to show them at very unfeminine views. Clickbait elicits and even welcomes any type of engagement – and that engagement easily, often and regularly turns misogynistic and transmisogynistic.

Capitalism – and particularly consumer capitalism – exists and thrives through exploitation. The easiest and fastest ways to make money is to exploit the most vulnerable, the least listened to, the most disrespected because they do not have as much power to call out the veiled attacks on them. In the progressive blogging world, any marginalized group who does not succumb to conventional progressive thought (in light of the triple-bind outlined above) is ripe to be called “crazy”, “stupid”, “blind” and any manner of ableist terms. But these insults are ok because they generate offense and offense generates hits and hits generate ad revenue from sponsors who are likely to exploit the poor and dark-skinned anyway.

Clickbait Progressive Blogging opens a vicious cycle that rewards mostly white men for being awful even as they claim to be superior (another factor of White Supremacy and Patriarchy) because they believe in equality and justice – even while they are practicing racial, sexual and gendered oppression in the name of their beliefs.

—————————————

*Among those who’ve tried it and end up in the “That’s pretty damn racist club” are progressive blogs such as RingofFireRadio, Progressive Secular Humanist (who apparently decided to attack her twice. Good form, White bros), Forward ProgressivesReverb Press, Fifth Column News

**Where is this money coming from? Who is paying activists?

On Scabs and Transit-Oriented Living

I took my daughter to a gentrification protest earlier this week which I think highlights how White Progressivism works to undermine communities of color while (falsely) representing them. This kind of representation delivers itself in crafty manners that seem to support the marginalized that they claim to speak for until we recognize the work that is actually happening is detrimental to the health and existence of that oppressed community. In fact, the alderman we protested, Joe Moreno, and many of his supporters were themselves Latin@. If we were to judge by representational politics, Moreno could say that his actions – such as getting high-density transit-oriented development (TOD) skyscrapers in a residential neighborhood where most houses are two-to-three stories high – are more pro-Latin@ than his detractors. This would be an error, not least of because representational politics are a tool of White Supremacy. In this case, rich, White developers used Latin@ proxies to represent them and their interests, and this is who the counter-protesters were in effect operating for, but with darker tones and Spanish phrases.

I have lived in the Logan Square and Humboldt Park neighborhoods for most of the last 28 years, back when I was one of the most white elements at (now-closed) Humboldt Elementary. For many years Humboldt Park was very deliberate about maintaining its identity as a Puerto Rican base for long-marginalized Boricua, Black and Mexican/American residents. The highly stylized flags that overlap Division between Western and California are sources of pride, of the recognition of being recognized and belonging for the classic residents of Humboldt Park. I’ve walked with white visitors who gaze at the flag (often with a tinge of confusion) and they get asked if they’re here to take down the flags. The flags are signposts for a home for the very marginalized.

Paseo Boricua

Paseo Boricua

Belonging is integral for people of color and others marginalized by mainstream society. It tells them that there is a safe space for living, for being, where their colors, culture and way of life will not be automatically suspect. Of course, White Supremacy and its relations interrupt – Capitalism in the form of consumerism and underground economies; violence in the presence of guns, turf fights, police harassment; patriarchy in everyday sexism and street harassment, the poverty of single motherhood; Whiteness in the constant devaluing and disinvestment of the community’s resources – schools, medical coverage, mental health clinics, local businesses, etc, etc. They interfere. They interject. Whiteness is colonial. It is an empire and it will exist on every space it can find to make its home.

But to belong is to say there is a home for you, and a chance to fight against the interjection of Whiteness and for your home with your peers. Gentrification, then, is the process of unwelcoming. To gentrify is to disrupt black and brown self-determination, both in terms of dismantling organizing power and of distracting crucial self-awakening. These sound like amenities, but they are vital to black-and-brown survival in a White Supremacist world that seeks to choke them out.

This article by a transit-oriented blog is written from a perspective of whiteness. It presumes that adding over 100 new units where typical prices will run $20,000 per year for a one-bedroom apartment will actually help Logan Square residents remain in their homes. Because, you see, if wealthy folks move into these new buildings, they won’t take yours away from you and you won’t be pushed out because the wealthy people will live in their shiny towers and won’t ever bother you nor raise the property value taxes or squeeze out your businesses and hang-outs nor bring the price of living up. Nope, not at all, nosirree.

The truth is that the very existence of such Towering Monstrosities will force several people out of the neighborhood on its own. It is now a question of mitigating the damage as best we can in order to serve the community and allow us to survive. This should not be such a struggle, and it should not be nearly impossible. As these developers seek both public funds and public approval to help create their Displacement Machines, we should be able to ask for trade-offs in return that will benefit the public good and not just the coffers of the alderman and his people. To receive a Community Benefit Agreement is to enter an agreement where the community gets something in return for giving up ground. In these capitalist, White Supremacist cooperations of city and corporations, we are not allowed communal autonomy to reject these Infernos, but we should be allowed some trade for our willingness such as fifty percent affordable housing under community standards, living wage jobs, and trust funds to local schools for scholarships or supplies. I mean, that’s how we’re told the market works, right? Give and take?

But perhaps what is most troubling about this article is the presumption that only middle class white people are invested in public transit as a means of living. It does not seem to cross the mind of white mainstream and indie media that maybe us poor, black and brown people kinda need to remain around transit hubs in order to get to our jobs and families? That maybe we can’t afford to park in the city, that if we have a car, we only use it on occasion anyway? That someone like me who has only owned a car for two years relies on my feet, bike, bus or train to get every single location?

But no. To the white middle class progressive, we are predictably invisible. And if one brown person stands up and says that these devices hurt us and another brown person says “No, thank you for this,” the White Middle class trusts the word of the latter even though he may be stepping on the head of the former.

No, as I told the Chi.StreetsBlog, the TOD is yet another tactic of the progressive neoliberal used to exploit and undermine the working people of the community. We are constantly told by middle class white people what is for our own benefit when we know that these are tactics meant to divide us, which was also the goal of the counter-protesters. It is a century-old practice used to destroy unions and any other power that the people have.

That is why those counter-protesters are scabs.

Displaced by Rock N Roll

One major way that gentrification – the racist and classist displacement of residents and homeowners of color for increasingly affluent white people –  works in Chicago is that communities of color will band together and work to replace amenities they’ve lost as a result of white flight and disinvestment in their communities and the city will use the newly-gained victories against the community that fought for them. Another way is to gather a large amount of White People in communities of color to show that the ‘hood isn’t so “ghetto” and maybe pretty cool. It’s a marketing strategy, but also a way of taking the few public resources the community has as tools against them.

As the saying goes: People of Color can’t have nothing good in this town.

We see this happening in my community, in the dividing line between Humboldt Park and Logan Square called the Bloomingdale Trail.

Dialogue about turning an abandoned, above-ground rail line into an above ground park in a section of town with many children and little green space started ten years ago with Latinos from the two neighborhoods talking for several years, petitioning aldermen and the city and local businesses. Doing the work to bring good things into their neighborhood. But things didn’t really start kicking off until the neighborhoods started being reinvested.

By reinvested, I mean there was more White presence. More white people followed by other white people followed by a gradual westward displacement. We saw Latin@-owned businesses shut down because developers flooded them with city inspectors who charged them for infractions as petty as paper on the floor to drywall placement, knowing full-well that these are jewelers and hair stylists with low profit margins. At the same time, the developers would send delegates and aids into neighborhood committees and make friends with the neighborhood city councilors.

The result is that now property assessment – and thus property taxes – in the area around the trail has risen this year about 40%. That’s significantly higher than inflation and at rates that working class people cannot possibly keep up with.

Developers know how to market and bring in young White people – such as artists – who want to live in cool areas to be their initial colonizers; buy out lots, and tenant buildings; force out businesses, and consume entire blocks when and if possible (often through associated, partner and umbrella real estate companies); and, thus, considerably raise rents or flip houses or property quickly for substantial profit.

Because they have plenty of capital available, they are able to have their way with residents, with rents, with zoning permits, with architecture – unless there is significant push-back.

But the act of gentrification makes the act of organizing that much more difficult, because the long-term residents are now being scattered to the winds and the ones left have even less resources and fight more fights – just trying to keep the schools open and funded or bringing the kids to schools when the neighborhood schools are being shutted, as my elementary school, Von Humboldt, was and as was threatened to happen to most neighborhood schools in majority-black/brown communities.

There is already lack of funding, lack of time, lack of resources. But gentrification works by removing potential leaders and human capital and by treating people of color and the very poor as not as fully human (totally original concept I know right?) and therefore tabling, moving, ignoring, ramshackling, steamrolling their concerns until they can muster up enough people and action to disrupt the way of things.

Recently within the city, we see another agent and trend of gentrification, White People’s Music. Popular music has been accused of pilfering and gentrifying and stealing poor people’s – and specifically black and natives’ – music for profit for the last century, so it only makes sense that it would be used against communities of color.

Take an Uptown neighborhood concert for neo-folk pop artists Mumford & Sons, for instance. After floods nearly disappeared a homeless community living under viaducts in the neighborhood, the city was nowhere to be found. Until another day or so, when they came to kick the homeless people out. And yes, they are homeless but they are people who need community and security and stability that comes with community like anybody else. The neighborhood has been steadily gentrifying for the last decade, but this location – at the lake and a train or bus ride from downtown – has a large section of homeless people. The city has shut down several homeless hotels in the area (as well as one in Logan Square about three blocks from where I’m writing now) while claiming that the population will be served better by going to shelters. But shelters are not safe for many homeless people or families, where the children are often separated from their parents and the adults are separated from each other.

But we consider poor people to behave like middle class people, where needs are taken care of through money and access to resources. We need community, however, to watch each others’ backs, to take care of needs on a regular basis, to exchange works and skills. Plundering us from these communities of care is to plunder people, to keep the marginalized on the utter ends of the margins.

So to say that the city treated the homeless community in Uptown with disrespect and even outside the law is to cut it some undeserved grace. Alderman Cappelman and the city services in coordination and under cover of White pop music were doing what the powerful do: Breaking up any challenge to their power; justifying endangering marginalized people by considering them “hazards”, thus further marginalizing them; dispersing them with little-to-no preparation; underselling them. Yes, the city makes some money from these concerts, but how much of it goes to the very poor it pushes out?

Answer: Not enough to begin to pay them back. Neoliberalism is making wealth off the backs of the poor through corporate affairs while justifying it through the White Logic of personal responsibility.

Last year and the year before, the Riot Fest – a punkrawk-centric music festival and carnival – occupied Humboldt Park to put on a show that could be heard for roughly a mile away.  Our streets were flooded by strangers, by White people. Several years ago, it would have been an anomaly to see any groups of White people in Humboldt Park.

Riot Fest at Humboldt Park

Riot Fest at Humboldt Park

But remember, developers and realtors know to move in when they see white bodies. So this music event works in many levels to displace the community. For one, more whiteness means, to white people with investment dollars, security. Which means that White people flock around other white people and occupy those places where they see other white faces. They figure the place must be both cool because of the non-whites in the area but also safe enough for them because of the white bodies. Because of the power dynamics at play, they – willingly or not – move out non-white and poorer community members.

As my friend Sharaya Tindal notes in an article for Crain’s,

For the past few years, residents in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood have seen their namesake park fenced off from the public for weeks. We watched as large machinery tore up the community baseball diamonds and open fields, setting up stages and equipment for the Riot Fest music festival.

But not this year. After a combination of heavy equipment, rain and tens of thousands of people left parts of the park unusable for months last year, residents were fed up. Community members came together to force Riot Fest out of the neighborhood park.

Humboldt Park after Riot Fest

Humboldt Park after Riot Fest

In lieu of going to a non-residential park which could handle the traffic and disruptions, the city decided that colonizing another community of color is preferable. So without input and dialogue from the community, but with vague promises of community investment (again, investment goes to areas when developers believe they’ll get a handsome return), the weekend extravaganza is moving to Douglas Park, nestled between the Latinx neighborhood Little Village and the black neighborhood North Lawndale.

The reason is clear. To get a foothold of whiteness in those neighborhoods as well. This means more revenue at the cost of black, brown and poor people that make up the workforce and the heart of Chicago.

However, there are things that can be done to stall and perhaps even reverse this racist curse of gentrification.

End Capitalist control of housing, for starters. Housing is a human right and should be treated as such. Allow communities to have control of their own homes and property.

In lieu of such radical measures (lolsob): Note that the city is claiming eminent domain in these practices and demand that landowners and renters be rightfully recompensed for being displaced. Call organizers and artists to account for performances they are involved in.  Any artist worth their salt knows that a space is important to the performance. Fight for affordable housing. Get involved in community groups that push for resources while fighting gentrification.

 

Beauty for Ashes

Love’s in need of love today.[1]

Coming from an evangelical background, I’ve had these dueling tendencies. On the one hand, we were constantly admonished to “take everything captive”, to be aware of the Devil, who comes like a lion prowling for what he may devour. That we were to beware of the lusts of the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life. We were fighting a war against sin. Sin became the center of discipline and Christian habits the way that older denominations focused on the Christian calendar. Sin and trying to avoid it became such an obsession that they actually captured the imagination and locked it in a dungeon.

On the other hand, there is love – the greatest commandment. It was what first drew me to Christianity and in the midst when nothing else made sense, passages like I Corinthians 13, I John 4, Romans 13, Galatians 5, Mark 12, and Matthew 22 kept me going, grounded me, pushed me and worked to define my Christian identity.

Since I have left the Evangelicalism fold, I’ve noticed that many of the old habits, but especially the centering of sin, are hard to kick. I refer to my state as post-Evangelicalism, because the ways of forming congregants take a pervasive and deeply embedded mental hold on us. Experience has taught me that post-Evangelicals are hardly fully free of those ways of thoughts because the patterns were established in our bodies and minds through regular, regurgitated practice.

This is troubling because it makes me look at the world through deficits. It becomes easy to look at myself and my kinfolk through problematizing lenses, rather than acknowledging us as whole, complex creatures. People who are fully lovely and complex and beautiful and maybe not so lovely. People who may be full of grace, generosity, grace, peace, anti-social tendencies, greed, intellectual curiosity, prowess, survivor skills, difficult histories, kindness, generosity, stinginess, power, tenderness, viciousness, pettiness, greatness…

Camera-Lens-03

Instead, I easily reduce people to the awful things that they experience. People thus become projects. Those who don’t conform White Supremacist Heteropatriarchy are thus reduced to victims of it.

But we are not merely victims.

When Dylan Roof, the White Supremacist terrorist, came to Mother Emanuel AME church – a church founded out of necessity to resist and openly fight White Supremacy and slavery; a church burned down by slavers as a result of a foiled slave revolt; a church that was underground for thirty years because it would not subject itself to white overseers in the most intense days of slavery – sat in the congregation while they were praying for an hour, enjoying their welcoming of him in their space. He later says he was grieved to the point that he was worried he couldn’t do what he set out to do.

But he did. He opened fire.

What must have gone through their eyes at this violent betrayal of their love.

And to hear victims’ family members saying now, to Dylan Storm Roof, “We forgive you.”

That is superhuman. It is often expected of victims to forgive their abusers, oppressors, murderers. But it shouldn’t be. It cannot be. That is not forgiveness but more violence, more abuse, more oppression, more murder.

But yet the Mother Emanuel AME Church has a history of surviving in a world of White Supremacy through the seemingly conflicting or at least contradictory spaces of both resistance and forgiveness.

This is not the norm nor should it be expected. It is not loving to expect that of people. But it is a testimony to their loveliness – in both the resistance and the extreme acts of forgiveness. For children to say, “I cannot hold my parent any longer, but I forgive you,” is a testimony not to what should be universal, but to a vivid imagination that clings to hope in the most violent of spaces. It is family trying to find ways to recognize, respect and continue the work that their lost ones stood for. It is a legacy of endurance and beauty.

—–

The beauty of Black, Indigenous, South Asian, East Asian, North African and Middle Eastern people, of differently-abled persons, of women, and of those outside the heteropatriarchal sexual/gender norms is based in their humanity. For myself as a Christian, it is in the bearing of God upon us all and the Spirit that flows in through us all. That must be the initial point. That God has Come By Us and resides in us. It becomes more evident under the suffering, but suffering does not make one more lovely – only the loveliness becomes more evident.

The Blues, Black Gospel, Salsa, hip hop: Mavis Staples, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Mahalia Jackson, Fred Hammond, Public Enemy, Bob Marley, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Fela Kuti, Celia Cruz, Stevie Wonder – these are testimonies of struggle and survival, but also of innate beauty and grace and ugliness.

To be brief, they are worthy of being loved because they are lovely. No one disputes that. And no one should dispute the loveliness of the subaltern.

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[1] I planned this as an essay to think through loving my neighbor before I woke up to the news of the Charleston massacre. That affected the shape of this, and the delay in presenting it, but hopefully the message is the same.

If the Good News Isn’t Good News for the Poor…

This weekend I witnessed – mostly through Twitter – my town being taken over by two gatherings for justice, both of which themselves included diverse voices. One was an Evangelical Christian seminar called The Justice Conference, held downtown and featuring an array of Christian voices on issues of justice as identified from a largely White Evangelical perspective. The other was a series of protesting actions to get a trauma center in the South Side, which would be used to save people shot within range as there are no trauma centers for adult victims of shootings on the South Side of Chicago.

I would not argue that one was more important or justice-y than the other. Both were calls to justice but for different audiences. Evangelicals need to be called to economic, sexual, gender, and racial justice. There were problems as Ryan Kenji points out. It largely centered on white and male voices, framed conversations in the problematizing nature of White Privilege, disappeared LGBTQ issues and speakers, and included only one Woman of Color for the mainstage, etc. But at the same time, for many it was revelatory and even earth-shaking to hear voices speak loudly and prophetically against capitalism, patriarchy, prison-as-justice, and White Supremacy.

But the problem was that while the protestors at the University of Chicago were directly confronting White Supremacy, detainment control of poor black communities , and capitalism in order to get a much-needed trauma center open for victims of gun violence in the South Side and save lives, attendees and organizers of The Justice Conference were largely operating in a mode that takes White Supremacy and Heteropatriarchy as norms. We could see this in some of the problematizing of the very definitions of Justice, or in how the conference was arranged in the first place. Calling men “pastors” while calling women “sisters” is a capitulation to a male supremacy ever present in the majority of Evangelical churches – whether or not they call themselves Complementarian* or even know what that term means.

Christianity Today hosted this chalkboard asking "What Your Justice Looks Like"

Christianity Today hosted this chalkboard asking “What Your Justice Looks Like”

At heart was a re-defining of justice to fit into a highly individualistic framing. Oddly enough for a culture at-odds with post-modernism and a society they consider too relativistic, Evangelicalism redefines justice not to movements of people righting societal injustices, but to people individually helping to curb things they consider wrong or unjust. Because there is little room for community-based action and little understanding of corporate responsibility (everything is broken down to individual sin and individual responsibility), it’s a mess for the foreseeable future**.

All of this to say that, in some respects, justice is often a word applied to the top of specific interests of Evangelicals (I believe Daniel spoke about this) and in line with Evangelical priorities (worship, missions, sex trafficking) that either are directly a part of Evangelicalism or can be neatly aligned with it (White Privilege, as opposed to addressing White Supremacy). I’m thinking about this as I’m writing my book on Evangelicalism’s roots and how it nose-dives with neoliberalism, but also as my church is partaking in a several-week-long sermon series on reclaiming Evangelism. And, for a variety of reasons, this discussion gets me in an uncomfortable position.

I don’t necessarily like to be uncomfortable, but I do like to interrogate what could make me squeamish, and why something may be making me uncomfortable and what to do about that.

Being a Christian means – in some aspect – in evangelism as an outpouring of care. I believe that some sort of sharing of my faith, some public performance of it that can be communicated is necessary. It’s an outpouring of love. It’s reproduction, and reproduction is vital to life.

And yettttt, Christian witness of our faith has largely sided against life. It has been and still is a message steeped with death, and given in ways that reflect that. Rich recalled going to a Hell House when he was a youth. For those not familiar with Hell Houses, it’s a Halloween-themed church gathering that uses imagery left over from Dante’s epic poems and Carman’s music videos to scare people away from hell and into the abusive Jesus who would send them there for not believing that he could and would send them there.

Most churches despise this form of evangelism, however. In light of more friendly and effective Evangelists like Bill Bright, Billy Graham and megachurches following in the footsteps of Willow Creek Church, seeker-friendly churches do not pound on doors, do not preach condemnation, rarely-if-ever talk about hell, and go out of their way to show visitors and would-be Christians that they are welcome at the church.

I remember when seeker-friendly was seen as a denigration by my more fundamentalist peers. They were seen as “not preaching the truth”, being afraid of “man’s approval rather than God’s”. I felt then that they may have a point.

I think I agree with them now. Not that the truth is that every person is on their way to hell without affirming some four or five points about doctrine and then saying a prayer. But that their seeker-friendly message was just a veneer, a sleek cover for the same old thing and therefore dishonest.

Gospel was, in early Christian times, a message from the courts of power that meant (in an Orwellian sense) “good news”. That good news was usually the ascension or birthday of a new emperor. Or the conquering of a city.

This was certainly not good news to the colonized. That good news was of suppression and oppression.

Which is why the good news of Jesus was upsetting to that order (and why he was killed by that same state power). Because Jesus’ good news was good for the poor, for women, for the indentured, for the slaves and the nobodies and the prisoners. This was the message when reading from a synoptic gospels-centered view at least (there’s great stuff in Acts, the epistles, Revelations, and John’s Gospel, but I’m convinced that trying to read those outside of the framing of the gospels first is a huge mistake and leads to a recontextualization of the texts that over-spiritualizes them, robs them of their liberating power and upholds current, violent, dominant power structures).

The gospel message of the seeker church is delivered in a nice package, but inside the package is the dominant, oppressive system’s Gospel. It is Caesar’s gospel of war, empire-building, fear, hell, torture, suppression, oppression. Anti-LGBTQ. White Supremacist Euro-American theology with abundance of shame and guilt. Capitalism-entrenched. Patriarchal. Abuse-as-central to salvation. Eternal suffering and torture to justify unnecessary suffering…

When so many White Christians are justifying child abuse that happens in their own communities (whether it happens when a Duggar male child sexually abuses Duggar female children or when cops target, harass, beat up, throw down black kids attending a pool party in a white neighborhood) but blaming LGBTQ people for imagined abuse – or at the least being silent about such abuse coming from their own communities – the “nice” Christianity doesn’t appear so friendly to those on the margins.

As long as the Christianity that we offer to the world is fundamentally capitalist and abusive, then perhaps it’s not a message that needs to get out so much? If the good news that we have to offer to the people is like the good news of empire and dominion and violence, then how does it differ from Caesar’s good news?

Also, if our good news is tied together with a culture that seeks to superimpose over other cultures – if it aligns godliness with whiteness or consumeristic spirituality, for instance – then is it actually good news?

Because if the good news isn’t the good news of liberation, if the good news isn’t good to the poorest and the most oppressed, then it isn’t good news for anyone but the wealthiest. And that is not a gospel worthy of Jesus, (as far as I’m concerned).

So, a new evangelism needs to be tied in with a liberating gospel.

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* Complementarians believe that women and men are essentially different and that each has an assigned gender role to facilitate the other in a heteronormative marriage relationship. Shortly, the man is the head of the household and the woman is his helper.

**Though we can hope for better in the future, yet this may encapsulate structural theological problems within Evangelicalism that will need to be addressed before it may be able to be an effective engine for justice.

The Celebrities of Christian Justice and Their Abuser Dynamics

I was talking to my fiancee about this well-understood dynamic we have in Christianity, where since the church prioritizes forgiveness and repentance/redemption, it is also a haven for abusers of all varieties and stripes, but particularly male abusers of children and women. When their aggressions come to light, they are treated as grave-but-forgivable sins. The person who has committed the offense merely needs to act contrite in front of the church leaders and maintain that God has forgiven him.

clean

If God has forgiven the repentant abuser, we are assured, then who do we believe we are to not do likewise? We are sinning against God. And moreso against redemption – this idea supposedly unique to Christianity that those who have done wrong can be made right again; those broken can be fixed; sold can be bought back.

Testimony time in the fundamentalist and evangelical church is rife with people who once were lost and now are found. And the more lost they were, the more attractive their stories. We celebrate the bad-boys-gone-good. For if God could change a murderer, God is still good, right?

While not exactly the same formula is used in progressive circles, there is still this stretch, this application, this remnant of redemption. Redemption is a prize over safety. It’s sexier. If the church area is justice-oriented, well, even better.

Justice-oriented spaces prioritize messengers who are also redeemed.

The man who -despite all odds – became a feminist and is now a national leader and speaker on feminism.

The white guy who teaches – for a price – how to not be racist.

The spousal abuser who speaks, and writes against violence.

How much brave.

Much counterintuitive.

Many brilliant.

Too many redemptive.

Many terrified

God used a donkey. God used Saul of Tarsus. God can use them. – We’re told. Time and again.

clean2

But these redemption stories aren’t quite… redemptive. They don’t encourage repentance, but cheap grace. Redemption is something earned – the traitor has to earn (back) trust, not authority and responsibility. They can make things right, possibly, but it is up to those they have wronged to decide that.

To do so minimizes those hurt the most and tells them that they are not safe in these spaces.

Then what kind of Christianity are we enacting?

What sort of justice are we fighting for?

One that prizes the powerful over those who they’ve disempowered. Those with megaphones against those they’ve devoiced. We prize the very ones we are supposed to be fighting against because they have done a great job of presenting this image as protectors of the powerless. So good that they cannot allow messages that counter their narrative to be loose out there on the internet.

The Women Are Not Pious; They Understand Grief and Loss

I went to church on Good Friday. There’s something about the day and the season, about meditation, about sorrow and joy, death and rebirth. It’s always been one of my top – if not my top – holidays. Even for my advanced ADD, it helps to have a special frame and place where I can focus, if only for a few minutes at a time. Today, we were invited to sojourn and visit among artistic representations of the stations of the cross. And I could only make it to three of them before I was overloaded. One thought I had in particular centered around the station known as Jesus meeting the daughters of Jerusalem:

A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’

Luke 23:27-29 NIV

Pietro Lorenzetti’s fresco of women following Jesus on Via Dolorosa, Assisi, 1320 via Wiki

I think of the mothers in my community who have lost and continue to lose their children to the state violence of the Prison Industrial Complex. I think of how overfilled Cook County Jails is, of mothers grieving the loss of their children to a system that chews them up and spits them out as a means of maintaining a permanent underclass. Most of our incarcerated are political prisoners, like Jesus, and mothers grieve for their loved ones.

The incarnate was incarcerated, died the death of political prisoners. And what is prison if not death – if not a ripping from economic, familial, social, psychological, intellectual, communal life?

The sin that Jesus bore on the cross was not the sin of intentions and “impure thoughts”. It was the sin of the world – which is to say that what killed Jesus was Empire. Empire’s sins – of control, domination, abuse, purposeful poverty, incarceration – of throwing lives away and deeming entire populations worthless.

These are the reasons Jesus died. Christians picking up their crosses is not about piety. It is about identifying with the most oppressed and marginalized. This is the message of Good Friday through Holy Saturday.

And it drastically effects how we interpret Easter and afterwards as well.

White Liberalism and Muslims

Sometimes the difference between liberals and conservatives really isn’t that far. In The Nation, while reviewing White Liberal thought that led to increased incarceration of black people during the last fifty years, Willie Osterweil made the point that White conservatives don’t believe that racism exists but fundamentally believe that race does. White liberals, however, believe that racism exists, but not race. American liberalism is rooted in individualism and has a difficult time seeing past that, even while it makes sweeping generalizations. I think the same can be said for White/Western liberals and conservatives irt Muslims and Islam.

White conservatives think that Muslims (as in the people of color – North Africans, Sub-saharan Africans, Middle Easterners, Central Asians, etc.) are savages and so their religion reflects that. White liberals will say that Muslims aren’t savages naturally, it’s just that their religion makes them that way.

It’s a blood-thin line, you see.

Outside of the racism (which neither will admit to, arguing that Islam is a religion and ignoring the fact that the vast majority of its adherents are non-White), this view of Muslims as point-of-fact savage in one way or another is justification for endless war. While the endless war is a tool of empire and capitalism, it needs to be justified to a population that sees itself as civilized. The Myth of Civilization in fact needs an alter ego, a demon – the uncivilized. The Other. The foreigner. The Oriental.

Edward Said would look at the vast majority of portrayals of Muslims through popular entertainment and news media and would not be at a loss. In the 1990’s, even before the mass upgrade of the Military Industrial Complex’s to the permanent War on Terror, even before the literal bombardment of Muslims through perpetual foot soldiers, mercenaries, US-based oil companies, and drones, Muslims were exotified, other-ized, villified, barbarianized in the popular US imagination through movies and pop culture (in much the same way Natives have been within this land through popular imagination, through the Cowboys and Indians mythos of traveling road shows and John Wayne movies and Tonto-ism). The Oklahoma City bombing was first blamed on Muslim extremism. Muslims and Middle Easterners were and are the easy villains of popular imagination – from Blackhawk Down to Alladin‘s Jafar to the literally faceless hordes gunned down by Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Popular media primed the Western mind for the War on Terror.

Now every terrorist attack – whether domestic or international – is blamed matter-of-factly on Muslims and Islam. It doesn’t matter that most of the victims of terror done by extremist Muslims are Muslim. White Conservatives will blame Muslims while White Liberals will blame Muslim Extremists – by which they mean REAL Muslims.

Christians and Atheists and Jews get to come in various forms and in different aspects with vastly different worldviews within their prospective religions (or lack-of-religions). But not Muslims. Because Muslims are Orientalized, they are simplified. In this imagination, there are, at most, Good Muslims and Bad Muslims just as, in the popular White imagination, there are Good Black people and Bad Black people. The Good ones are like us. The Bad want to kill us.

There are of course concerns within the wide world of majority-Muslim countries. There are concerns within Islam. Patriarchy and gendered violence is strong in many of these regions. And there are many attendant factors within that which shock Westerners. But shocking does not preclude the fact that very similar things happen in our own shores and next door and possibly in our own homes. Domestic violence is rampant in the US and in every demographic. Every day, three women are killed by intimate partners in the US. These are de facto honor killings. Domestic violence happens predominantly and exponentially in impoverished communities. It is nine times more likely to happen among the poorest in the States than among the richest. So, community and resource investment is important. So is dismantling patriarchy. But this must be internal. Sending poor people from here who are already predispositioned to violence (due to economic and psycho-socio violence perpetuated on them through generations upon generations) is a perverse practice of perpetuity. American violence is exported to the Middle East, intensified and imported back again to the American household and against our own women.

There is an irony that one of the primary justifications for anti-Muslim violence is to free women from the oppression of Islamic violence, forgetting that we are also bombing and killing Muslim women. Through the pretense of fighting for the independence of women, anti-Muslim fears welcome and perpetuate anti-women violence both home and abroad.

Yet talk of “spreading democracy” and freeing them from their own oppression is not just meaningless, it is in itself an act of violence. White liberals who say this are advocating the same “blow it all to smithereens” policies that white conservatives argue for. A democracy that is forced on the people through warfare is no democracy. It is colonialism and despotism.

That seems a lesson that is not just difficult for White Conservatives but for White Liberals as well. But then whiteness is, after all, primarily colonial, primarily conquering, primarily about supremacy.

Chief Illiniwek and Tradition

A high school basketball game between two rivals in Central Illinois was going to highlight the return of the very racist Chief Illiniwek.* The Chief, an epically offensive mascot that the University of Illinois put out of its misery after appeals by students, Native American groups, and finally the NAACP forced its greedy little hands, is still a popular favorite among white sports lovers in my own Illinois who claim it is a part of their tradition and should be honored as such. It’s a racist tradition they are still proud of.

Still. In 2015.

uhWHUT?

uhWHUT?

Ever ask a Southerner why they sometimes carry the Confederate Battle Flag as a sign of pride? Usually they answer like Accidentally Racist Brad Paisley – it’s a sign of respecting their tradition. And this is where you cue Fiddler on the Roof. Tradition is a good thing, right? We should all honor our forbearers and ancestors. But what happens when the tradition being honored isn’t really yours in the first place? Or the tradition that you’re honoring has more to do with ending the traditions and cultures of countless people? In light of the awfully racist University of Illinois’s Native Mascot “Chief Illini” being resurrected at local high schools in central Illinois and all of the white people defending this, let’s talk about traditions.

Before we go any further, we should clarify that there is no good analogy in this scenario. When sports teams take the names and images of First Nations – like the Tomohawk Chop or Chief Illiniwek – it’s not just offensive or politically incorrect. It’s not even just oppressive. It is an act of genocide. So there is no good comparison to be made in the US. Maybe with Israel and Palestine, but even there it’s not quite the same. So the comparisons made here should be read with that context, I think, and not be made into memes.)

My inheritance legacy is a mixture of Puerto Rican, Irish and other European roots (including English and Dutch), many of which have been in the US dating back to the Revolutionary War. So I’m thinking of translating, loosely, what kind of “honor” these sports fans give to Native Americans into how I’d see them as a Puerto Rican, as an Irish lad, as a poor white guy.

When I think about the R*dsk*ns and the Chiefs and the Fighting Illini (which, by the way, the Illini nation was peace-loving and not a warrior tribe), although I cannot personally relate and any similarities fall short, I think of how I felt hearing white people referring to my grandmother as a “sp*c.” I can only begin to imagine the caricatures, the ridiculous movements that Anglos would practice. Dressing up in brown-face, yelling “WAAYYYYYPA!” as a battle cry. Acting drunk and eating tacos (which is not a Puerto Rican cuisine in the least) because that’s how they imagine Puerto Ricans acting. The mascot would be a toad (instead of the traditional island frog coquí) or a dancing gang member out of West Side Story. The anthem would be “Everything is free in America.” What if the opposing teams had signs of Teddy Roosevelt taking the hills of San Juan? I mean, yay USA “freeing” brown people from Europeans by conquest and giving the land to the much more civil USA. “Freedom.”

Now, would this be somebody’s legacy? Of course it would. It would be the legacy of racist people. It would be the tradition of coopting, mockery, misrepresentation, oppression and money-making. This is what racism is! Their memory is being honored here because it’s obviously not Boriquas. In fact, it is a memory – but it’s a painful one that still stings.

I’m wondering what it would be for the English to similarly “honor” the Irish. What if their soccer teams to have names like the Starving Irish to honor the memory of the great potato famine? Their mascots can be the leprechaun from Lucky Charms or the slasher flicks1. Or it could be drunken men stooping around and saying nonsense. It could be

People will bring up the Fighting Irish at this point. And while it is a caricature, Notre Dame is an Irish institution deciding to poke fun at their own selves and point to an Irish legacy in such a way. There is a tremendous distinction between a people deciding to poke light fun at themselves and finding humor in their collective memory and one where the murderers, those who have been sending their children off to war or starving them or denying them of decent housing and life take those caricatures. One is finding meaning in suffering – the other is denying meaning through suffering.

Another legacy I share is that of poor white family. So I imagine if rich people were to have horse jockey teams called The Rednecks or White Trash. That would be different than poor white people declaring their affinity for those titles (one I don’t share). In fact, poor white people’s pride for the names were originally an act of defiance against the disdain of Yankees and upper middle class folks. Again we must ask, whose legacy is served by these icons? Likely, the people who have kept poor white people in their “place”.

Some traditions need to be thrown away and tossed in the fire. Especially when they’re murderous.

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*The halftime show – which was set between two high school teams whose names and logos are also anti-Native American mascotry, The Tuscola Warriors and the Sullivan R*dsk*ns – has been canceled. The Tuscola school district did not cancel out of any sense of human decency but out of safety concerns. Which is one of the more racist things I’ve heard. Teach them early, right?

5th Column and the Way to Peace: A #CheapPeace Synchroblog

Note: This is my second of two additions in the second edition of the #NewPacifism Synchroblog hosted by Rod at Political Jesus. This edition is called Cheap Peace.

In the last blog I argued in a footnote that while the Christian Pacifist class may do a good job of critiquing the Security State abroad, there is no workable critique of the Security State in the domestic level. I propose this is for a variety of reasons. First, Evangelicals overwhelmingly voted in George W Bush and his culture of war, and re-established him even after he and his neocon buddies showed the true face of their “compassionate” Christianity and just what kind of “democracy” they were exporting (and thus importing back into the US as well). So the Christian Pacifist focus on the War on Terror is an important critique. And because this critique was so little heard in the very White and thus Republican Evangelical churches, it caught on with a largely younger generation. In effect, taking on this message became profitable and popular. But it was also easier than critiquing the very essence of the White middle class existence.

This White Middle Class existence is built upon Black enslavement, Indigenous extermination, Brown deportation, racial-economic segregation and gentrification. The largest motivator for these actions is fear. Fear of a Black planet; fear of a Brown county. We readily see fear in not just conservative but liberal and progressive utterances in regards to People of Color. Hives. Muslim Terrorists. Crack babies. Thugs. Infestation. All terms dehumanizing POC. Even the idea of the “Model Minority” puts unrealistic and inhuman expectations on East Asians – using them as objects and props in the neverending socio-psychological war against Black people and other, less-desirable minority groups.

So the disconnect is so wide between the White World created on the energy of fear and the Black and Brown worlds controlled and to a degree defined by that same energy that it’s easy to see why White Christian Pacifists will not tackle domestic racism – it’s alien because they are a part of White Supremacist system and because Cheap Peace comes easy. In the American consumer culture, peace is merely another product that can be – under the right people – wished and spoken into existence. So the cries for Peace, Peace they cried upon Ferguson in the wake of the non-verdict were not cynical, but sincere and genuine. And that is the problem. They seem to actually believe that peace can be achieved abroad or domestically without tearing down the very systems that benefit them in the process. They actually believe that peace is merely a state of mind, and that they – being predominantly white and male – can institute that state of mind. It’s a colonial state of mind.

Riot Police in the Field, Peace - Banksy

Riot Police in the Field, Peace – Banksy

Even Banksy tends to have this neoliberal view.

And as Fanon points out, decolonization is an act of violence because colonization is an act of violence. This is why those who speak for the recognition of the humanity of black people in the framework of White Supremacist America are viewed as “race-baiters” and “racial instigators”. Notice that within this work I – as an identifiably white male – am never referred to as an animal (that distinction would go to my grandmother, friends and neighbors, I suppose), but merely as a trouble-maker. Christian pacifists do not like trouble because it makes things harder for them. Their work is in the speech acts and speech acts need Searlian contexts in order to be effective. The speech acts must be presented at the right time, in the right place, with the right set of words (or their acceptable approximates), and be agreed upon by all acting participants. For someone to reject the call of peace means that the peace-keeper has failed and must go it again. But the lack of peace isn’t due to the fact that the peace-speaker wasn’t working – it’s a result of uncooperative people (usually people of color, of course).

This is of course the essence of Cheap Peace. When Bonhoeffer critiqued Cheap Grace, he was speaking on such matters – grace given as a proximate, as a speech act when none was appropriate. Grace was given by the church over a murderous, genocidal, nationalistic state. His Lutheran church sanctified the Third Reich just as the White American Churches sanctify the White Supremacist code. To reject such is to reject peace. Is to stir up trouble.

This last week I was called a “racial instigator and 5th Column Marxist” by an ex-FBFriend. I joked – as one does – about adding these titles to my CV. I’ve already been long convinced that what the White Church needs is more racial instigation, as its complacency and silence breeds violence just as the Lutheran church’s did in the 1930’s and 40’s. In looking up what a ‘fifth column’ is, however, I was rather stoked. It is this idea of sabotage, of taking down a city or fortress from inside its own walls. I will gladly do that to capitalism, if I could. I will spread the very real news that capitalism is a great evil that is capitulated on the value of private property over the value of human lives. If that is not a fundamentally Christian morality, the one Jesus spoke of to the Rich Young Ruler, I do not know what is. Isn’t radicalism fundamentally instigation and sabotage? To work within the city of corruption and death and destruction to bring it to collapse? If the White American Church runs on a capitalist model (and it does) that benefits White Americans while silencing the voices of those on the margins, it needs to be brought down. It needs to be invaded. Perhaps the word closest to mind would be infested.

But even if the White Pacifist Christians speak out against injustice in and of their communities and silence their own hushing techniques, are they willing to uproot the systems that cause sustained, traumatic violence at home? Are they willing to strike simultaneously against not just the Military Industrial Complex, but against Heteropatriachy1? Not just against the Prison Industrial Complex, but capitalism? Not just that #BlackLivesMatter as a slogan in the same way that the professional anti-abortion industry co-opts the message that all lives are precious to God, but in a theologically robust and comprehensive way that the likes of James Falwell, Chuck Colson, and Operation Rescue never ever comprehended?

The Security State is in place to protect White Middle Class American fears. Is it not the job of Christian theology – and certainly any pacifist view based on that theology – to erase fear with hope and love? And if love in action is the work of justice (I argue it is), and if we recognize that peace does not exist outside of justice, instigate. Instigate!

It is cheap to maintain the status quo at home while demanding change abroad.

This is Cheap Peace. The fact that lives are cheap and that all we need to do is say some words about how lives are treated over there by our government. But very little critique is here, at home. Peace is cheap and shouldn’t cost us some businesses, right?

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1Patriachy is the logic that naturalizes social hierarchy. Just as men are supposed to dominate women on the basis of “natural” biology, so too should the social elites of a society naturally rule everyone else through a nation-state form of governance that is constructed through domination, violence and control. Patriarchy, in turn, is presumed a heteronormative gender binary system. Thus, as Ann Burlen argues in Lift High the Cross, it may be a mistake that the goal of Christian Right politics is to create a theocracy in the United States. Rather, CRp work through private family (which is coded as white, patriarchal, and middle class) to create a “Christian America.” She notes that the investment in the private family serves to make it more difficult for people to invest in more public forms of social connection. In addition, investment in the suburban private family serves to mask the general disinvestment in urban areas that makes the suburban lifestyle possible. The social decay in urban areas that results from this disinvestment is then construed as the result of deviance from the white, Christian family ideal rather than as the result of political and economic forces.

  • Andrea Smith, “Dismantling the Master’s Tools with the Master’s House: Native Feminist Liberation Theologies.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (22:2), Fall 2006, p 96.